Hoodoo and high magic are on a collision course.
Not only can Roxie Mathis mix herbs and roots for spells to do good or ill, she can see auras and spectral entities. Her magical gifts allow her to help people with their supernatural problems, but when she’s hired to exorcise a demon from a young woman, Roxie discovers the limits of her powers.
If that weren’t challenge enough, a handsome sorcerer on the rebound has set his sights on Roxie. All sexy smirk and dark temptation, Blake Harvill is nothing but trouble. But he’s also in danger from the very demon he conjured, and that’s something Roxie can’t turn away from. In way over her head, it’s not going to be enough for her to just be a paranormal investigator and old school root worker – she’s going to have to be the Mojo Queen.
I could feel the presence of spirits as soon as I crossed the threshold, a heaviness to the air, a tingling on the back of my neck. Telltale tracks of blood seeping out of the walls also served as a big clue.
“Roxanne.” Daniel Rambin, my cousin, stood in the doorway holding a box and my messenger bag. Technically he wasn’t my cousin, actually my ancestor, but it was easier to tell people we were cousins.
I turned to help him bring in our supplies. The living room was taken up mostly with a sectional, coffee table, and television, all super-sized. I started unpacking our stuff on the coffee table.
“The blood’s not real.” Daniel stood in the middle of the living room, examining the wall. He didn’t look like what he was: medium height with a slim athletic build, friendly blue eyes and dark blond hair, he was more likely to wear jeans and flannel shirts than the black silks and red velvets of stereotype.
“That’s what it smells like.”
I glanced up from setting out the supplies. “Ectoplasm has a smell?”
He shrugged. “Everything has a smell.” A hint of amusement shaded his voice.
I concentrated on what I was doing to help me get in the right frame of mind. Using the coffee table as an altar of sorts, I laid everything out, starting with incense. Next came a white candle to represent this family and their home. I dressed it with oil and placed it on the table alongside a chunk of angelica root. Around that I emptied a packet of powder, ground-up herbs and roots, in a circle. On top of the circle I placed seven purple candles, also dressed with oil, to represent forces of protection. A black candle to signify the trouble plaguing this house came next, undressed and outside the circle. I wrote troublesome ghosts nine times on a small piece of paper and placed the black candle on top of it. Next I poured a spice jar full of graveyard dirt onto a small cheap porcelain saucer and placed the saucer next to the black candle.
The lights began to flicker. First a lamp in the corner then the recessed pod lights, one at a time. “They know we’re here,” I said.
Daniel gave me a questioning look. “They?”
I nodded. “We’re definitely in the plural here.” I walked to the kitchen and surveyed the countertops. They were clear, as I’d requested. Good. I didn’t need a toaster thrown at my head, or knives from a knife block. A paranormal investigator only needs a ghost to discover the fun to be had with a knife block once before telling clients to get the things out of the house before an eviction starts. “Okay. Let’s start mapping.”
“Is there a basement or attic?”
“No, but we will need to make sure we get the garage.” Unlike that one time, though my guilt for the oversight had been assuaged by not getting paid for that job.
We started at the front door and walked through every room clockwise, making sure we knew the layout and the location of every closet. I didn’t draw a physical map but I liked to have a walk-through before getting down to business. The place wasn’t big enough to be called a McMansion. It was a standard boxy subdivision house with a crappy floor plan, lots of neutral colors, toys for small children and Thomas Kinkaid on the walls. It had taken a lot for these nice conservative Stepford Borg to call someone like me. As we walked through the house I started to open my senses further, slowly. Like taking your time to get the radio dial on the right frequency and volume, so you don’t get blasted with feedback. Not the best explanation for it, I know, but it was the best I could come up with when I tried explaining it to people. Basically, by going slowly I could make sure I didn’t get overloaded, which was a damn good thing in this house. I was picking up waves of anger, a big swirling froth of it, but there was more emotion underneath. A great sadness tugged at me, even stronger than the anger. They weren’t haunting this place for kicks.
Back at the starting point, I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the coffee table, my hands flat on the carpet. I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing, reaching with my senses through the plain brown carpet and the cheap subflooring. I drilled a hole through the layer of negative energy wrapped around the house, straight to the earth underneath. I was long past needing a chant to help ground and center myself. Now it was automatic as breathing. Energy built inside me in a slow, steady rising cone. I exhaled, opening my eyes in time to see the cloud of my breath. The temperature had dropped.
Daniel knelt on the opposite side of the table, his lighter in one hand. He hadn’t done this with me very many times, but he knew his part. His mouth curled in a grim smile. “Ready?”
I nodded and produced my own lighter to light the candles-first the purple, then the white, then the black-as Daniel took care of the incense.
I spoke in a clear calm voice, a voice of authority, just as I’d been taught, even if I had to fake it. “We petition for the protection of this family and ask that their home be rid of troublesome ghosts.” I picked up the black candle and placed the paper in the dish of graveyard dirt. Setting the paper on fire, I said, “Intruders, be gone from this house.”
Protection spell begun and statement of intention completed, now it was time for the actual eviction. We turned our attention to the rest of the supplies. A small black-lacquered tray held a white round three-inch pillar candle, a smudge stick of white sage incense and a small brass bell. That was for Daniel. For me waited a bowl, a bottle of rainwater and a container of salt. I poured water in the bowl, added a generous amount of salt and stirred it with my fingers. I stood and started toward the door. Daniel lit the candle then the sage.
I stood in front of the door for a moment, the bowl of saltwater in my left hand. A gilt mirror hung on the wall closest to the door, next to a coat rack. I caught my own reflection in the mirror. Tipping my head down, I looked over the tops of my glasses. Faint blue light seemed to swirl around me, several shades of blue but mostly a dark indigo. It turned my green eyes the color of swamp mud and gave my auburn hair punkish highlights.
I don’t necessarily have to take my glasses off to see a person’s aura. Using my glasses as a filter is something I trained myself to do, and taking them off was part of my ritual of focusing my concentration so I can see the auric field. We’re all made up of energy. Electromagnetic energy is what forms the etheric, first layer of energy surrounding our bodies. When you hear someone talk about being able to “see” a person’s aura, this is the energy field they’re talking about. It’s an ebbing, flowing shimmer of light and color radiating several inches out from the physical body.
Reading an aura means interpreting what all those colors mean. The colors can refer to a person’s physical health, their personality, their emotional state. Different “readers” might see different colors. What’s red to me might look orange to someone else, but our interpretation will pretty much be the same. It’s a little like reading tarot cards, more about intuition than hard-and-fast rules.
There are some things that seem fairly universal in my experience. If a color is more of a glow, it’s positive. If it has more of a smoky look to it, it’s a negative emotion. There’s a difference between seeing the aura of a person and catching sight of a ghost’s aura. It’s about like trying to catch soap bubbles and keep them intact, and I do have to take my glasses off for that. I folded them closed, setting the bowl on the floor long enough to get the glasses in their case and the case back in the pocket of my hoodie. One last glance at Daniel to make sure he was ready then I turned to face the door.
I dipped my fingers in the bowl and splashed salt water around the door frame. Speaking in a clear, loud voice, I said, “You are not welcome here, and you need to leave.”
The bell rang behind me. I stepped out of Daniel’s way so he could pass the incense around the door then I repeated myself. “You are not welcome here, and you need to leave.” Not a plea, not a threat either, just a clear statement.
We went through every room in the house like this, clockwise, paying special attention to corners, windows, doorways, and closets, and not forgetting the garage. Holy water as announcement, a bell to get their attention, incense to carry the message and cleanse the place, followed by my simple commandment to leave. Not flashy but it generally gets the job done. Not that they don’t fight back. Oh hell yeah, they can fight back, and the ones in this house were starting to.
Every light bulb we passed exploded, tiny pieces catching in my hair. Everything not nailed down began to tremble, knickknacks sliding off shelves. The temperature continued to drop and the air pressure pushed against the inside of my head painfully. As we reached the back of the house, the voices started. Nothing so distinct as words, more like murky ripples of sound rising and falling. And, like what I’d sensed earlier, anger and pain and sadness. Unintelligible shouts, crying moans.
I’m near-sighted, so I didn’t have too much trouble in the close confines. My auric vision, as Daniel called it, wasn’t picking up much of anything but faint residue from the family who lived here, brief splashes of color, overlaid with a dark, smoky haze.
I kept repeating my command for the ghosts to leave, trying to watch for changes in that haze, evidence the banishing was working, or not.
As we entered one of the children’s rooms I got a big not upside the head. I cried out in surprise more than pain, though it certainly hurt.
Daniel picked up what hit me, holding it up for me to examine before tossing it back on the floor. “Toy truck,” he said. “At least it’s not one of the big old metal ones.”
I rubbed the side of my head then went back to sprinkling salt water. “You are not welcome here.” I put more force in my voice this time. “And you need to leave!”
The bedroom door slammed shut. Toy soldiers and children’s books became missiles aimed at our heads. Curtains and blinds in the room’s only window shook, snapping at me as I tried to sprinkle my salt water. Toy cars zipped out from under the bed, nearly tripping Daniel. The indistinct screaming became louder, more focused around us, as if we were surrounded by invisible forces, which, actually, we were. Except I could see them; pockets of swirling gray haze, appearing and disappearing throughout the room. I spotted some of it by the bed again, right before it was lifted off the floor and flung at Daniel.
It caught him square in the back and knocked him down, his head cracking against a corner of a chest of drawers, the tray and its implements lost in the mess. With luck the candle was snuffed. A bright splash of blood shone through the auric murk and that small cone of energy in me expanded. It twisted through me and out of me, until I could see a wave of yellow crash into the gray haze. “Get out!”
My body jerked, sending the bowl of salt water to the floor. I dropped to my knees, placing my palms flat on the ground, reaching for something to hold on to while my head spun so much I thought I might vomit. Ground and center, ground and center, pretend you’re a tree with roots and shit that never works.
Something cold came close to my face, so close I wasn’t sure if it was touching my skin. I raised my eyes from the floor, looking deep into the gray. No faces, no forms, but definitely a presence. I spoke to that presence, but without shouting this time.
“This is not your home.” My voice was barely above a whisper. “You need to leave. You can leave. You’re free to go.” I sat back on my haunches, glancing around at the smoke-like ribbons curling around the room. “You’re free to go. You’re free.” I kept repeating it until it was almost a chant.
The spinning in my head slowed to a crawl as I watched them leave, energy dissolving into emptiness. The temperature returned to normal with a rush. I fumbled my glasses out and put them on, hands shaking. I felt exhausted, much more so than after a normal ghost eviction. But then I’d used a lot more energy than usual.
Daniel sat up, dabbing at his forehead with his fingers. The cut was deep enough to need stitches, if he were human, but since he was a vampire, the torn skin had already begun to knit, blood soaking back into his flesh. It grossed me out a little but fascinated me at the same time.
“Did I just get my ass handed to me by a ghost?”
I shrugged. “Kinda, yeah.”
He came to his feet, taking my hands to pull me up. “I can honestly say that’s a new one for me.”
“Cool.” I offered him a weak grin. “Something you can blog about.”
He laughed, but got serious again real quick. “So what was that?”
“I did some research on the property. The land, I mean. I know the house is just a couple of years old, but sometimes spirits will hang around a piece of land.” I started to pick through the toy debris for our supplies. “There was a plantation here, before the Civil War. Right where this house and a few of the neighbors are now was the slave cemetery. I thought that might have something to do with the haunting.”
He nodded. “That’s why you kept using the word free. Okay, I get that. But what I meant was what did you do? I can’t see things the way you can, but I can feel it when somebody cracks open a can of magic whoop ass. I didn’t know you could do that.”
I didn’t say anything for a long moment. He was talking about the yellow light, of course, the energy that had come out of me and knocked those angry ghosts around like a strike through bowling pins. Not just knocked them around, but subdued them enough to finally listen to me. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t known I could do that, or how I did it, or if I could do it again. His surprise had nothing on my shock.
The home owner came to my rescue and kept me from having to answer by flinging the door to his son’s room open and greeting us with a baseball bat held high. “I know you said to wait outside but it sounded like World War Three breaking out.” The poor guy looked terrified, but I had to give him props for being brave enough to come back in.
I held out my hands in a relaxed gesture. “It’s okay, Mr. Newman. It’s all over now.”
He lowered the bat, eyes cutting back and forth between us. “You mean, uh, the house is, uh, clean?”
I gave him my best don’t worry, I’m a professional smile. “Yes sir, it is.”
His shoulders slumped. “Oh, that’s…that’s great. That is so great.” He took in the chaotic condition of his child’s room then noticed the blood on Daniel’s shirt. “Hey, are you okay?”
Daniel gave him a dazzling smile and a little bit of vampy mind fog. “I’m fine, just fine. Sorry about the mess.”
Mr. Newman seemed to forget where he was for a moment, a bland smile on his face. Then he shook his head and looked at me. “Uh, the Toomeys.”
I gave him a questioning look.
“Our neighbors. We were talking to them about all this.” He gave an embarrassed laugh. “Well, it’s just that…”
Was I going to have to pull it out of him, whatever he was trying to say?
After a moment he stopped hemming and hawing and got to the point. “It’s happening at their house, too. They’d like you to help them. If you can.”
All I wanted to do was go home and go to bed. It must have shown on my face, because Mr. Newman decided to get sneaky with me. “I told them you’ll take a check but you prefer cash. He should be back from the ATM any time now.”
Daniel and I exchanged a look. He raised an eyebrow, as if to say, it’s up to you. My bank account made the decision. I smiled at Mr. Newman. “Let’s go meet the Toomeys.”